While many artists enjoy long careers, Donny Hathaway’s career was tragically short. He only released three studio albums and one soundtrack album during his lifetime. However, during his short career, Donny Hathaway recorded some of the most beautiful, powerful and moving music you’ll ever hear. Donny’s debut album was Everything Is Everything, which was released in July 1970. It reached number seventy-three in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-three in the US R&B Charts. Since its release, Everything Is Everything is widely regarded as the finest album of Donny’s career. Nine months later, in April 1971, Donny Hathaway released his sophomore album Donny Hathaway, which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 26th March 2013. Could and would Donny Hathaway build on the critically acclaimed Everything Is Everything?

Having released such a well received album as Everything Is Everything the pressure was on Donny to record his second album. For someone who suffered from mental health problems, this couldn’t have helped Donny. For his sophomore album Donny Hathaway, Donny only cowrote Take A Love Song with Nadine McKinnor, whereas he’d wrote one track and cowrote four others for Everything Is Everything. Among the other eight tracks were Van McCoy’s Giving Up, Leon Russell’s A Song For You, Billy Preston’s Little Girl and Dorsey Burnette’s Magnicficent Sanctuary Band. They were joined by Mac Davis’ I Believe In Music, George Clinton’s She Is My Lady and Gene MacLellan Put Your Hand In The Hand. Completing Donny Hathaway was Bob Russell and Bobby Scott’s He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother. Recording of Donny Hathaway would take place in New York, at Atlantic Recording Studios.

The nine tracks that became Donny Hathaway were recorded at the Atlantic Recording Studios in New York, during 1970 and 1971. With Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Donny producing Donny Hathaway, which comprises cover versions of soul, gospel and pop songs, which Donny gave his own unique twist. Accompanying Donny was an all-star band. This included a rhythm section of bassist Chuck Rainey, drummer Al Jackson Jr and guitarists Phil Upchurch and Cornell Dupree. Joining them, were percussionists Jack Jennings while the unique sound of tenor saxophonist King Curtis was pare of the horn section. Adding backing vocalists were two of The Sweet Inspirations Cissy Houston and Myrna Smith, who joined Myna Summers and a number of other backing vocalists. With Donny Hathaway recorded, it was scheduled for release in April 1971.

Released in April 1971, Donny Hathaway was well received by critics. It reached number eighty-nine in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the US R&B Charts. Sales of Donny Hathaway surpassed Everything Is Everything, which considered to be Donny’s finest album. However, is Everything Is Everything a better album than Donny Hathaway? That’s what I’ll now tell you.

Donny Hathaway opens with Giving Up, by Van McCoy, the singer, songwriter, arranger and producer. Giving Up had originally been sung by Gladys Knight and The Pips, but Donny transforms Van’s song, with a gospel tinged rendition of the lyrics. Not only is this a beautiful song, but one that’s hugely powerful. Against a dramatic arrangement, where a piano, rasping horns and rhythm section accompany Donny’s vocal. Quickly, the arrangement returns to a more understated, but still dramatic sound, as Donny’s voice soars emotively. Still, there’s a gospel influence present in his vocal and the arrangement. Gradually, the beauty and emotion of the arrangement, reveals itself. Flourishes of piano, powerful drums, lush, shimmering, quivering strings and King Curtis’ saxophone drench the arrangement with its sad yet, gorgeous sound. The song continues for nearly six and a half magnificent and majestic minutes, during Donny and his band deliver the definitive version of this deeply moving and powerful song.

A Song For You was penned Leon Russell penned track. Donny’s fingers cascade up and down the piano, before giving way to his gentle, thoughtful vocl. As he sings the lyric: “we’re all alone and I’m singing this song for you,” that’s what it feels like. There’s a sense of intimacy, with just the combination of Donny and piano. You’re enthralled, before the lush strings, bass and woodwind enter. They combine beautifully with Donny and the piano. So compelling and subtle is the arrangement, you’re captivated, scared you miss anything. There’s a beauty to the lyrics when Donny sings tenderly about love, his relationship and feelings. Then then when sings “when my life is over,” there’s a sense of poignancy. Behind him, there’s mostly, a classical sound to the arrangement, but sometimes, a bluesy sound and feel. One thing that’s constant however, is the inherent beauty of both Donny’s emotive and heartfelt, understated and thoughtful arrangement.

Little Girl was written by Billy Preston, one of a few people who worked with both The Beatles and Rolling Stones. This is a slow track, where a combination of piano, Hammond organ and harmonies combine before Donny’s emotive vocal enters. As the rhythm section play slowly and carefully, there’s some heartbreaking interplay between Donny and his backing vocalists. A heartbroken Donny asks why his “little girl” had to leave him, asking “where did you go.” By now, the slow arrangement builds, the emotion and sadness tangible. Donny’s delivery of the lyrics is heartfelt, with the emotion rising as he sings “you don’t know how it’s been without the baby.” Adding to the sense of emotion and loneliness are blazing horns, which punctuate the track. This is just the finishing touch to a song that Donny brings to life, thoughtfully and emotively.

Just a piano, chiming guitars and rhythm section subtly accompanying Donny as he delivers He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’s lyrics. He tenderly delivers the lyrics about brotherhood, with bells subtly used to augment the arrangement. They combine perfectly with the piano and later, the drama laden strings. Donny breathes meaning into what’s usually an overblown, middle of the road standard. Instead, it’s transformed into something quite beautiful, and almost spiritual. Key to this a mostly understated arrangement and Donny’s tender vocal.

Booker T and The MGs drummer Al Jackson Jr provides the heartbeat to Magnificent Sanctuary Band, as Donny almost raps about the thrill and excitement of seeing a good marching band live, not on television. With handclaps, rhythm section and backing vocalists barking out 1-2-3-4, Donny remembers the excitement of seeing the marching band for the first time. Horns rasp behind him, while flourishes of piano and supremely, soulful harmonies accompany Donny’s vocal. Although very different from the other tracks on the album, it’s an uplifting and joyous and catchy track, especially when Donny and the backing vocalists unite. They transform the song into an almost swinging, spiritual track with a gospel flavor.

When you hear the stunningly, beautiful She Is My Lady, you wouldn’t imagine that this was written by George Clinton. It’s the diametric opposite of what George wrote for Funkadelic and Parliament. Instead, it’s a beautiful, slow ballad with gospel-tinged harmonies accompanying Donny. From the opening bars, you realize something beautiful is unfolding. A piano gently plays, before Donny slowly and thoughtfully sings of his love for the woman who makes his life worthwhile and meaningful. Gradually, the arrangement builds, with strings sweeping in, before the rhythm section and piano add a sense of drama. They give way to the gospel-tinged harmonies who add to the sense that this song’s roots are an in the church. They help the song to grow, as do rasping horns and lush strings. They combine perfectly with the piano, adding a sense of drama. As the song unfolds, the emotion and beauty grows, reaching a dramatic and gospel-drenched crescendo.

I Believe In Music was written by Mac Davis, who also wrote In the Ghetto on Everything Is Everything. Again, the song features some gospel inspired harmonies. With the rhythm section, piano and harmonies accompanying Donny, he sings about how music can stop conflict and inspire people. Quivering, shivering strings join Donny’s soaring vocal, while harmonies combine gospel and soul. Later, a flute floats briefly above the arrangement, to be replaced by tambourine and flourishes of piano, while Donny and his backing vocalists joyously deliver the lyrics.

A combination of piano and rhythm section opens Take A Love Song, which was written by Donny and Nadine McKinnor. The lyrics are beautiful, Donny’s delivery thoughtful and filled hope and emotion. Behind him, the arrangement grows to include shimmering strings, rasping horns and harmonies that unite and soar impressively. With Donny playing piano with a flourish, his emotive and powerful vocal combines seamlessly as the arrangement builds and builds, with strings and horns at the heart of this dramatic arrangement.

Donny Hathaway closes with the spiritual Put Your Hand In the Hand. It features an understated arrangement with just Donny and the piano combining. The only time the arrangement grows is when the backing vocalists sweep in, with their gospel-tinged harmonies combining peerlessly with Donny. This understated and sympathetic arrangement seems totally in keeping with the religious lyrics. It’s a joyful and uplifting way to end Donny Hathaway, one of the best soul albums of 1971, which was great year for soul music.

To me, Donny Hathaway’s eponymous second album, Donny Hathaway is one of these rare albums, that doesn’t have a bad song on it. This is unusual, as usually, there’s a song that lets an album down. Not here. There are neither any bad songs, nor any filler, just nine great tracks. These tracks demonstrate how hugely talented a singer and musician Donny Hathaway was. Although he only released three studio albums as a solo artist, there’s more quality in these three albums than there is in twenty albums by other artists. From the opening bars of Donny Hathaway until the final notes, you’re enthralled, taken on a stunning and magical musical journey that encompasses soul and gospel music, with Donny as your guide. You find yourself transfixed, awaiting the next song with anticipation, listening to every subtlety and nuance. When Donny Hathaway ends, you can’t help but listen again, just in case you missed anything the last time. What happens is that each time you listen to the album, the more you grow to love it. Donny Hathaway quickly becomes like a trusted friend, and you’re drawn to it time and time again. Thats what happened to me. Over the years I’ve grown to cherish Donny Hathaway, and his two other albums Everything Is Everything and Extensions of A Man. Of these three albums, Everything Is Everything just surpasses Donny Hathaway when it comes to quality. It’s a close run thing, and there isn’t much between both albums. What I will say, is that this trio of albums features some of the best, most healing and uplifting music that you’ll ever be privileged to hear. If you’ve never heard Donny Hathaway which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 26th March 2013, or any of Donny’s other albums, then now is the time to let his stunning music enter your life. Once you’ve done so, you’ll never regret it, and like me, cherish the music of the late, great Donny Hathaway, a true legend of soul music. Standout Tracks: Giving Up, A Song For You, She Is My Lady and I Believe In Music.



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